Pastoral Health and Sexuality, Part I

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This is the first in a special series on Sexual Health by guest bloggers Dr. Bill Bixler and Greg Hill, LPC (see their bio below the article).

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Gnosticism is a theological cat with more than nine lives. Its most recent resuscitators include Elaine Pagels, the brilliant Nag Hammadi scholar, and Dan Brown, author of the best-selling book, The Da Vinci Code.  Gnosticism continues to live in a church context whenever a pastor places spiritual formation on center stage and relegates physical life and health to the homilectical and practical shadows.

One aspect of physical life which many pastors struggle with is sexuality, so they place it in the deepest, darkest part of those shadows.stone-tower_Pixabay user steinchenPastors who ignore their own sexual health are not only flirting with Gnosticism, but are neglecting a vital and God-given part of their identities.  Affirming the goodness of sexuality should include more than an annual sermon on Adam and Eve becoming “one flesh.” Spirited Life encourages pastors to move toward a healthier lifestyle, which includes proper nutrition, exercise, and timely physical and emotional health checkups. In addition, a healthy lifestyle needs to include a healthy sexual life.

In the Scriptures sex is not viewed as peripheral but as an essential part of marital relationship. For example, a battle-ready army was essential to Israel as it was occupying the Promised Land. Despite the necessity of a military fighting force at the ready, certain males were exempt from military service as follows, “If a man and a woman have been married less than one year, he must not be sent off to war . . . He must be allowed to stay home for a year and be happy with his wife.” (Deut. 25:4) Thus, for Israel, even national security did not trump the need to safeguard sexual and relationship nurturing during that vital first year of marriage.

So while the Bible shines a bright light on sex as good and right, it also is unflinching in its narratives of sex gone bad.  There are almost too many examples to illustrate this point, from the tragicomedy of Onan and his spilled seed to the horror of the rape of Tamar.

Whether describing the Song of Solomon’s beauty of sex, or the David and Bathsheba ugliness, the Scriptures address the issue of sex and sexuality head on. Sadly, many pastors do not.  By not doing so they leave themselves and many of their church members adrift in the struggle to live out their sexuality Christianly.

Pastors often focus their entire energies on spiritual concerns and church business to the neglect of their physical and sexual well-being. This unconscious homage to the anti-physical tenets of Gnosticism often carries a terrible price. Sex ignored can become master rather than servant. When that happens, sexual acting-out by the pastor is bound to occur and with it the tragedies all of us are familiar with.

In the next two posts we will be looking at how a pastor becomes vulnerable to sexual acting-out, whether with another person or via pornography. We’ll look at the factors that create that vulnerability and the various functions served by that acting-out. Lastly, we will examine what steps can be taken to develop healthy sexual attitudes and behavior, including making lifestyle changes which will greatly diminish the potential for sexually self-destructive behavior.

-Bill Bixler and Greg Hill

Greg Hill

Bill Bixler

 

 

 

 

 Dr. Bill Bixler (above right), a clinical psychologist, and Greg Hill (above left), licensed professional counselor, have both received clinical and theological training and are co-founders of the Center for Emotional and Sexual Health in Cary. They are certified sex addiction therapists and specialize in working with:  couples coping with infidelity; individuals caught in sex and porn addiction; teenagers struggling with porn, sexting, etc.; and spouses and families traumatized by the addict’s behavior. They are also available to speak to church groups on sex and sexuality. They can be contacted via phone: (919) 466-0770  or email:  dr.william.bixler@gmail.com  and  greghlpc@gmail.com

 Image by Pixabay user steinchen

Farmers Market Fun

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Last week I mentioned that I’m dabbling a bit in container gardening this summer, and hopefully I’ll get a few tomatillos and a handful of cherry tomatoes out of it.  For the majority of my family’s summer vegetable intake, though, we’ll be heading to our local farmers market a couple of Saturday mornings a month.farmers market2

It seems like more and more farmers markets are cropping up, even in smaller towns, which is great news for people who want to buy fresh and local products such as produce, meat, dairy, flowers, and baked goods (To find your nearest farmers market, click here).

To get the biggest bang for your buck and to ensure you’re truly getting local and garden-fresh produce, here are a few tips to remember:

  • Know what fruits and vegetables are in season (click here for a chart).  If a stand is selling tomatoes in early May, be wary, and ask the farmer how and where they were grown.
  • Go early or go late.  The freshest and best quality products will be available right when the market opens, but you may be able to get things at a discounted price as the market closes.
  • Take your own canvas bags, or even a little shopping basket (here are a few examples).
  • Make sure you have cash, preferably in small bills and change.  Some vendors are accepting credit cards now, but it will be faster, especially in large crowds, if you can pay cash in the exact amount.
  • Plan ahead so you generally know what items you are looking for and how you will later prepare your treasures.  Check out these farmers market recipes from Southern Living, Eating Well, and the kitchn.
  • On the other hand, be open to trying something new.  If you aren’t sure what to do with an item, ask the farmer how they would recommend using it or preparing it.
  • Enjoy yourself!  Farmers markets usually have fun and lively atmospheres, and some even offer special activities such as music and cooking demonstrations.farmers market

These and other tips can be found at About.com’s Local Foods section and News and Observer.

Want to grow your own vegetables this summer?  Click here for last week’s post, full of gardening tips and ideas.

-Katie Huffman

First picture by Flickr user US Dept of Agriculture; second picture by Flickr user North Charleston, both via CC

The Humanity of a Race

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On Sunday, April 13, 2014, Raleigh hosted its first Rock & Roll® Marathon and Half Marathon races.  Raleigh’s selection by the national Rock & Roll® franchise was touted as a defining moment for the city. But as one of the more than 10,000 runners competing, what struck me most on Sunday was that the race was a collection of thousands of defining moments that spanned the spectrum of the human experience.

image(1)At 6:00am on Sunday, I walked out of my brother’s house with my dad, brother, step-sister and a close childhood friend.  We headed to the starting line, each with our own story.  My brother was the only one of us competing in the full marathon. He’s a seasoned triathlete (an Ironman finisher in 2012 even), but this was going to be the first time he’d run “just a marathon.” My friend had a very specific goal – to set a new personal record and finish in less than two hours.  My father, a Boston marathoner at age 48, was running his longest race in the last 5 years. For my stepsister and me, this was to be half marathon #2. My father and I planned to run it side-by-side. He could easily out-pace me by 2 minutes per mile, but that’s not what mattered.  See, there was a time 15 years ago – when I was overweight and struggling with my own health – that he could run faster backward than I could forward.  But on this day, we’d be finishing those 13.1 miles together.  Those were our stories.  But what struck me both as we waited for the race to begin, and throughout, was how many other significant stories surrounded us.

While we warmed up and stretched, I spotted three sisters in matching tank tops labelled “older”, “middle” and “little,” who posed as their mother snapped pictures.  Others wore t-shirts emblazoned in scripture, prepared to share their faith while they ran. Many runners had Jimmy V Foundation-sponsored bibs tacked to the back of their shirts – they were running in honor of a loved one affected by cancer. Hundreds of others dedicated their race to the memory of a loved one, with pictures and names displayed on their race shirts.  There were Ainsley’s Angels, a group of runners that would be pushing wheelchairs for the length of the race so that individuals with special needs could experience such a great event of endurance.

As the race started: more stories.  About a mile in, I read the back of an elderly man’s shirt– he was 82 years old, had competed in every single inaugural Rock & Roll® event across the country, and this one was going to be his 166th marathon.  I had to let that sink in – 166 marathons! How many miles must he have run in his life?  At that moment, I realized I couldn’t fathom how many miles all the participants had logged in preparation for this journey of 13.1 or 26.2 miles. It takes countless hours away from friends and family to prepare for such a race. Not to mention money, effort, sweat – lots of sweat. And for more than 10,000 runners, this day was the culmination of all that hard work and dedication.

Further into the race, my attention turned to those who came in support of the runners. Hundreds of policemen and women reported for duty that morning to keep participants and volunteers secure along the closed course. They were running to the aid of fallen runners when one of the many EMTs wasn’t nearby.  And speaking of EMTs, they worked tirelessly, treating everything from ankle sprains to heat exhaustion.

Then there were the volunteers.  Many were there passing out water and sports drinks, no doubt being splashed constantly.  Dozens of bands – a highlight of the Rock & Roll® events – lined the course, sharing their gifts through music.  (To the band at mile 10 who was blasting a cover of “Don’t Stop Believing” as my dad and I passed, I give you special thanks for that perfectly timed tune.)

Next up were the families, friends, and strangers cheering from the sidelines.  My stepmom, in an effort to see and cheer for us all, covered nearly as much ground as we racers did. run w dad A friend stood with her dog at a sparsely populated corner providing encouragement and snapping pictures.  One newlywed couple dressed in gown and tux held one of the many funny signs we saw – it urged us to run faster, lest we be “caught like the groom.” Residents of the Oakwood neighborhood sat in rocking chairs on their porches, sipping mimosas, taking part in their own small way.  My favorites, though, were the seasoned spectators, angels in my mind, who made a point to stand along the course’s many hills, shouting at the top of their lungs that we “could do it” and we “were almost to the top.” We runners needed to hear that, we really did.

Not all the stories were joyous ones. Near the 11th (or 24th) mile, the course was lined with American flags and pictures of fallen service men and women.  And I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the two men who inexplicably lost their lives while competing in the race.  In a day punctuated by so many precious moments, none display the fragility of life more than those two tragic losses, and my heart goes out to the families and friends of those dear men.

Thankfully, there were also beginnings and “firsts” to celebrate: the runners who achieved their first long-distance race… the couple who got engaged in front of the Raleigh Convention Center, just minutes after completing the race.  Remember my close friend, the one who wanted to finish her race in less than two hours?  She bested her goal by more than seven minutes.  And my jovial brother actually danced as he approached the finish line, stopping to kiss his wife, scoop up their baby and went on to complete the marathon with his child in his arms. At nearly six months old, she’s already crossed her first race finish line. It likely won’t be her last.

So many individuals from Raleigh, from North Carolina, and from the country, were joined together in this one event, and in the end that’s what compelled me to share the experience with you.

It mattered that 10,000 plus runners joined each other in one similar goal.  It mattered that siblings and parents and couples were running that race together.  It mattered that the service men and women of the city were keeping everyone safe.  It mattered that complete strangers were shouting words of encouragement to people they’ve never met and probably never will.  It mattered that friends were sending “good luck!” texts and that coworkers on Monday morning were asking “how was the race?!”

It matters when we set a goal and achieve it.  And it matters when we support each other – family, friends, strangers.  I’m certain that we’d all undo the race if it could somehow bring back those two precious lives, but I also take comfort in the belief that they were surrounded by such a profound display of love and support in their final hours.

My other hope in writing about the race is this: the next time there’s a race in your community – whether it’s a small 5k, a sprint triathlon, or a franchised full marathon – participate in it.  If your health (and doctor) permits it, and you have time to train – do it.  If your family, friends, church members or coworkers are competing – support them.  Wish them luck, send them prayers and blessings, stand on a street corner or the side of a hill and shout words of encouragement at them.  Make a funny sign. Volunteer and pass out water along the way or bananas and protein bars at the end. Host a spaghetti dinner at your house or your church the night before and help the runners “carb-load” before the race.cheering_flickr user Joe

Take part in whatever way you can.  Take it all in.  And remember, whatever you do, it will matter.

-Rachel Meyer

Bottom picture from Flickr user Joe, via CC

Doctor’s Orders: Laugh!

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We’ve all heard the phrase, “Laughter is the best medicine,” but there really is research showing that humor and laughter can improve physical and emotional health.  Here are some of the ways that laughter is good for your health:

  • Relaxes the whole body and even leaves your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes (after a good, hearty laugh)
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Triggers the release of endorphins, the feel-good hormone
  • Increases blood flow and can help protect your heart from cardiovascular disease
  • Decreases pain
  • Reduces anxiety and fear
  • Relieves stress
  • Improves mood- how can you feel anxious, angry or sad when you’re laughing?

Shared laughter is even more powerful than 1205px-Laughter_2_by_David_Shankbonelaughing alone.  It helps build strong and lasting bonds, and it can help heal resentments and disagreements as well as reduce tension in awkward moments.  Laughter also brings people together during painful and challenging situations.

Here are some tips for creating opportunities to laugh:

  • Keep a book of jokes or cartoons on your office shelf.
  • Pull up a funny movie or TV clip on YouTube.
  • Display pictures of you and your loved ones having fun.
  • Pick a screen saver and desktop background that make you smile.
  • Attend a laughter yoga class.
  • Play with a pet.
  • Do something silly with children.

How do you incorporate laughter into your day?

-Katie Huffman

Information from National Humor Month; Image by Frank Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons

Pedaling to Stop Traffic

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The following post was written by Mark Andrews, Spirited Life Group 3 participant and pastor at St. Luke’s UMC in Hickory.

One of the hardest things I have ever had to do is admit to my church that I need help.  Somehow, through almost thirty years of ministry I had taken for granted that as the spiritual leader of my congregation, I could never admit any weakness or vulnerability.  But keeping up that façade of invincibility has been catching up to me in these last few years.  In a new appointment with more staff and more administrative responsibilities I found myself less and less able to maintain the persona.

In the midst of this stress I began Spirited Life through the Clergy Health Initiative. At the same time I also took part in a year-long spiritual practices exploration called the School of the Spirit offered through The Lydia Group.  These two programs reinforced each other, and one of the messages that became clearer during this year was what Brene Brown calls the courage of vulnerability.  Somehow, if I was going to get better I must, first of all, admit I was needy, and secondly, ask for help.

With fear and trembling I went before my Staff-Parish Relations Team, then my Administrative Council, and finally, my congregation, asking for a three month renewal leave.  I told them I was weary and needed a rest from my responsibilities, with the hope that I would come back renewed and refreshed to continue ministry.  At each announcement, I received from my people powerful signs of grace, appreciative affirmations, and open-hearted permission to do what I needed.  Such an outpouring would have never happened had I not admitted my need.  And as a result, I have already begun the healing that I had denied myself but so desperately needed.Mark Andrews_bike

On June 1, I will begin my renewal leave by climbing on a bicycle and riding from the Atlantic Coast of North Carolina to the Pacific Coast of Oregon.  I plan to use this trip as a means of support for our United Methodist Women’s efforts to stop human trafficking.  As I ride 4000 miles, I hope to raise $10 a mile ($40,000 total!).  Your donations are welcome (Pedaling to Stop Traffic).

Most of all, I am making this trip for me.  I want . . . no, I need to do this.  I am anticipating a restoration of my soul as I use this time to reflect on my calling and how to fulfill it with greater vulnerability in the years I have left.

But I have already learned one thing — we who serve the needs of others must acknowledge that we have needs of our own, and we must be vulnerable to our congregations if we are ever to receive the help we need.

-Mark Andrews

Updates to the Nutrition Label

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It’s hard to buy packaged foods at the store without glancing at the black and white box full of numbers and percentages. But do we really digest the info?

The nutrition label as we know it was introduced in the early 1990s, and it really hasn’t been updated since then, despite all the advances that have occurred in nutrition science and recommendations. However, a few weeks ago, the FDA released a proposal for a new label in the hope of making the food label more relevant, current, and useful to consumers.

“To help address obesity, one of the most important public health problems facing our country, the proposed label would drive attention to calories and serving sizes,” says Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods.  Here are some of the specific changes:

  • The calorie content will be larger and bolder.nutrition label
  • Serving sizes will be more realistic.  For example, a 20-ounce bottle of soda will be considered one serving (instead of two) since most people drink that amount in one sitting.
  • The new label will include added sugars.
  • While continuing to require “Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat,” and “Trans Fat” on the label, “Calories from Fat” would be removed because research shows the type of fat is more important than the amount.
  • Certain “Daily Values” for a variety of nutrients would be revised; these include sodium, dietary fiber and Vitamin D.

In helping unveil the new label, First Lady Michelle Obama said, “Our guiding principle here is very simple: that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf, and be able to tell whether it’s good for your family… So this is a big deal, and it’s going to make a big difference for families all across this country.”

The FDA will be taking public comments about the proposed changes to the label through the end of May before making a final decision. Food manufacturers will have two years to adjust the new label to accommodate any changes that are officially adopted.

-Katie Huffman

Image and information from FDA press release.

Taking a bite out of eating slowly

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Many of our readers are familiar with the mindful eating program called Naturally Slim, which has been offered to all three groups of Spirited Life participants. Most of our participants tried Naturally Slim personally; still others may have found themselves at a conference event, hearing their peers talk about “orange water, 10-5-10, and sugar island,” a few of the concepts in Naturally Slim.

One of the Naturally Slim tenets that seems to be most sandwichchallenging for people is eating slowly. I know it is for me! In fact, I would be embarrassed to share with you the number of minutes I spent eating lunch today (fewer than 10 fingers would be needed). Think about your last meal; how long did it take you to finish?

There is growing research to support Naturally Slim’s recommendation to slow down at mealtimes. One recent study out of Iowa State University found that chewing each bite of food more times is likely to result in fewer calories consumed at a given meal. Another study showed that slower eating at lunch resulted in less snacking later in the day, and yet another suggests that slowing down can reduce your risk of diabetes. On the flip side, waiting to stop eating until you feel full and eating too fast can triple your risk of being overweight. A researcher at the University of Rhode Island described it this way: “If you are eating for 20 minutes at 100 calories a minute, that’s a lot. But if you are eating for 20 minutes at 20 calories a minute, that’s not a lot, and it gives your body time to realize it’s full.” There’s also evidence to show that eating too quickly can contribute to digestive problems, acid reflux, and complications after surgeries.

Convinced yet? Maybe you are, but it’s hard to slow down! Naturally Slim offers a free smartphone app with meal timer that chimes when it’s time to take a break in the middle of your meal.

And now there’s a new technology on the market to help you monitor and track your chewing hapiforkhabits. It’s called the HAPIfork, and its slogan is “Eat slowly. Lose weight. Feel great!” The fork measures how many bites it takes to eat your meal, how long the whole meal lasts, the fork servings per minute, and intervals between fork servings. This data can be uploaded via USB or Bluetooth to your smartphone or online account where you can track your numbers. Not only does the fork collect information, but it even lights up and vibrates when you eat too quickly!  Check out this short NYTimes video review; and this Newsweek review for the practical pros and cons of the HAPIfork.

-Katie Huffman

First image from OpenClipArt user rg1024 via CC and second image from Flickr user David Berkowitz via CC

Cycle to Lake Junaluska

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The following article was written by Mark Andrews, pastor at St. Luke’s UMC in Hickory, NC, and co-founder of Cycle to Lake Junaluska.

The Holy Rollers are a group of United Methodist cyclists who ride together once a year over the course of several days leading up to the annual meeting of the Virginia Conference.  I first learned about the Holy Rollers several years ago and, as an avid recreational cyclist, thought how much fun it would be to do something similar leading up to our annual conference in Western North Carolina.  Thinking it would be a formidable administrative task to sponsor such a ride I let the idea sit on the back burner until casually mentioning it to another cycling preacher and friend, Doug Miller.Cycle to Lake J image

Through Doug’s initiative, and in partnership with Brad Farrington of the Wesley Foundation at Appalachian State University, we have launched Cycle to Lake Junaluska.  A 501(c) 3 non-profit organization through the Appalachian Wesley Foundation, Cycle to Lake Junaluska is designed to promote fellowship, physical fitness through cycling, and raise monies for various ministries of the United Methodist Church in the Western North Carolina Annual Conference (WNCC).

The first ever Cycle to Lake Junaluska benefit ride will take place this June 16-18, in the days leading up to Annual Conference. Over the course of three days and 160+ miles, we will ride from the WNC Conference Center in Charlotte to Casar UMC where we will spend the first night (62 miles).  The next day will bring the challenging climb to Black Mountain UMC where we will spend our second night (53 miles).  The last day will be an unhurried ride in the rolling valleys circumnavigating Asheville to Lake Junaluska (47 miles).

What’s Included In The Ride:

  • Indoor camping and limited RV camping
  • Ken’s Bike Shop mechanic at camp (fees may apply)
  • Printed maps and cue sheets
  • Marked roads and route SAG support
  • Rest Stops with drinks, fresh fruit & assorted snacks
  • Restrooms at host sites and at some rest stops
  • Shower facilities each day and night

Riders may choose to ride one day or all three. T-Shirts and cycling jerseys are available for purchase.  There will also be a “swag” bag of gifts from our sponsors, including the Clergy Health Initiative’s Pastor & Parish curriculum – a wonderful resource for strengthening relations between clergy and congregations and promoting the health of pastors. As a benefit ride in support of the various campus ministries in Western North Carolina, donations will be accepted.

This year’s route is outstanding and our overnight hosts will be providing great food and activities each evening. We may not be Holy Rollers but through three days of pedaling we may certainly become “spirited spinners” of our wheels.  For brochures, registration and more information go to the C2LJ website and sign up today.

-Mark Andrews (pictured below with his bike)Mark Andrews

Healthy Pastor

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The following reflection from Pastor Grace Hackney was originally posted on the Spirited Life blog in January 2010 and is re-posted here with her permission.  Pastor Hackney was a Group 1 Spirited Life participant and is an elder in the Corridor District of the NCCUMC.Pastor Hackney

I want to be a healthy pastor. I know that mind, body and spirit are tightly interwoven. I know that God wants me to be healthy, whole, undivided. I learned as a child that my body was a temple of the Holy Spirit. But I also learned that we are clay pots, easily broken, able to be used even with cracks.  I know from experience that sometimes we are better vessels for the Holy Spirit when we are broken; it is only then that we can get ourselves out of the way and make room for the mighty Spirit of God to work.

I want to be a healthy pastor, in the fullest sense of the word. I was a Health and Physical Education major and captain of the field hockey team. As a young adult I ran a marathon. I married an exercise physiologist. As a young mother, I kept our children away from sodas and fast food and turned off the television except for special occasions.

I want to be a healthy pastor.

Last month I found myself sitting in the dentist’s chair with my mouth stretched open for a full two and a half hours as I received two gold crowns for Christmas. As I lay there unable to speak or move, my mind took me to the past seven years as a full-time elder in the church. “How has ministry changed me?” I pondered.

As a Wesleyan, I would like to say I have moved at least a little bit closer to perfection, or that I have at least glimpsed moments of perfection as I have pastored, preached, prodded, and otherwise served as shepherd of this flock.

Mouth stretched open, I counted the ways my body has changed in seven years: two gold crowns, fifteen added pounds, more gray hair. I have moved from perimenopause to menopause in seven years. I have sweated during the prayer of confession and bled as I broke the Body of Christ. I have joined the apostle Paul in sleepless nights and the Council has been witness to my mood swings, far surpassing those of pubescent girls.

I want to be a healthy pastor. I tell the congregation that I cannot live into my baptism until they live into their baptisms. I cannot be healthy unless they are committed to my health. I tell them, “it takes a community to practice Sabbath.”  The reverse is also true: they cannot live into their baptisms unless I live into my ordination; they cannot be a healthy congregation unless I am committed to their health. We need each other as we seek to be healthy, in the fullest sense of the word.

Wendell Berry has famously said that the smallest unit of health is community. Being a pastor is teaching me that. Women in their 50s are going to go through menopause and are probably going to have dental issues just as surely as teenagers are going to have acne. How we live with each other during these stages of life can be witness to our love of God and neighbor. It means that as pastors, we are fully human, and only striving for the spark of the Divine. It means that daily, we must step off the pedestals our parishioners try to put us on and into the muck and mire of living together. It means we make appointments with ourselves to walk, to ponder, to garden, to knit. It means we care what our church potlucks look like. It means we don’t bring a pound cake to the Trustees meeting because we love George, who is diabetic, and love doesn’t tempt one another.

I want to be a healthy pastor. I wonder if the salvation of the world is actually dependent upon our commitment to each other: body, mind, and soul. I wonder what Church would look like if we really believed that God loved us so much that he gave us his Son so that we could all be healthy, so that we could love one another so much that it would really matter what we ate, how we used our time, how we lived our lives together. I wonder if the non-Christian world would see us and say, “See how those Christians love one another?!”

I want to be a healthy pastor. Will you help me?

-Grace Hackney

Research briefs

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Below are summaries of 3 recent research studies that have practical implications for taking care of your health.

Dental hygiene and your heart
Healthy gums make healthy hearts.  Researchers from Columbia University have shown toothbrush-with-toothpaste-2-by-gustavorezendethat improving gum health can slow the progression of atherosclerosis, the narrowing of arteries which is associated with heart disease and strokes.   It’s been widely accepted that the bacteria responsible for producing periodontal disease also contribute to atherosclerosis; the good news from this study is that improving gum health can actually reverse the progression of heart disease.  To reduce harmful bacteria in your mouth, it is recommended you brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss daily in addition to making regular visits to a dentist.  Read more: Dr. Weil’s Daily Health Tips or Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

Improving HDL effectiveness with weight training
WhileTwoDumbbells we’ve heard that high levels of HDL (good cholesterol) can protect against heart disease, new research is showing that how well the HDL functions is even more important.  UCLA researchers looked at the effects of weight training on HDL effectiveness, and they found that regular weight training contributed to better-functioning HDL, regardless of participants’ overall weight (overweight participants’ HDL was just as effective as lean participants’).  Dr. Andrew Weil, founder of the integrative medicine movement, says, “This suggests that physical fitness may be the best measure of healthy HDL function and, by extension, the risk of heart disease.”  Participants in this study engaged in resistance training 4 days a week.  Read more: Dr. Weil’s Daily Health Tips or Science Daily.

Mindfulness exercises can reduce blood pressure
About 30% of adult Americans have prehypertension, a condition where their blood Silhouette_yogapressure is higher than normal but doesn’t yet require medication management.  In a study out of Kent State University, researchers looked at the effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) training on prehypertension.  Results showed that participants who participated in an 8-week series of three types of MBSR- yoga, body scan exercises, and sitting meditation– had statistically significant lower blood pressure readings at the end (there was a decrease in both the systolic and diastolic readings).  Such an improvement in blood pressure for prehypertension patients could mean delaying or even preventing the need for medications as well as a reduction in risk of heart attacks and strokes.  Read more: Dr. Weil’s Daily Health Tips or Medical News Today.

-Katie Huffman, inspired by Dr. Weil’s Daily Health Tips blog

First image courtesy of OpenClipArt user Gustavaorezende; second and third images courtesy of wikipedia; all via CreativeCommons.